Each week Zac Hirschbeck will look at the betting odds for each NFL game and then share his pick for each matchup. While hopefully it goes without saying, please don’t hold him accountable if you gamble away your retirement savings or child’s college fund based on his picks.
After going 6-6-1 in his Week 8 Picks, and after correctly picking the Atlanta Falcons (-4) over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday night, Zac’s season-long record stands at 61-55-5 heading into Week 9.
Here are his thoughts on the rest of the Week 9 games:
Jacksonville Jaguars (+7.5) at Kansas City Chiefs
Despite their pitiful performance against the Titans last Thursday, I like the Jaguars to cover here. Jacksonville made a change at offensive coordinator (replacing Greg Olson with former Bills offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett), and the coaching staff has expressed a desire to take pressure off of Blake Bortles by reestablishing the running game. Though I’m not a believer in Bortles, perhaps a stronger reliance on T.J. Yeldon and Chris Ivory will open up the Jacksonville offense. On the other side, the Chiefs keep winning despite missing key players. Kansas City will turn to Nick Foles at quarterback as Alex Smith has been ruled out due to a mysterious head injury, and Charcandrick West will likely see the bulk of the work at tailback due to injuries to Jamaal Charles and Spencer Ware. Following Foles’ strong effort (16 for 22 for 223 yards and two touchdowns) in relief of Smith against the Colts, I like Kansas City to win against the Jags. However, due to their offensive injuries and Bortles’ penchant for garbage-time production, I think Jacksonville keeps things close.
Pick: Jacksonville (+7.5)
Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings (-6)
This matchup really favors Minnesota. While Matt Stafford and Lions offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cotter have sculpted one of the league’s most consistent passing offenses, the Vikings defense remains one of the NFL’s best despite a slip-up against the Bears in Week 8. The Vikings pass defense ranks in the top ten in sacks (ninth), interceptions (second), passer rating against (second), completion percentage allowed (second) and yards per attempt allowed (second). While Jay Cutler fared surprisingly well against Minnesota last week, I don’t think Stafford follows suit. On the other side of the ball, despite a mid-week change at offensive coordinator due to Norv Turner’s resignation, the Vikings should move the ball against Detroit. While a stronger defense could take advantage of Minnesota’s injuries along the offensive line, Detroit’s pass defense currently ranks dead last in DVOA through eight games.
Pick: Minnesota (-6)
Philadelphia Eagles (+2.5) at New York Giants
Much like how Minnesota’s strengths look set to nullify the Lions strengths, Philadelphia appears to have a favorable matchup against the Giants. New York relies heavily on its passing attack, and while some of that stems from having Eli Manning and a strong trio of receivers (Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard and Victor Cruz), it also is a result of the Giants’ league-worst rushing offense (70.3 yards per game). Defensively, Philadelphia boasts the No. 5 pass defense in the league as they’ve allowed only 214.1 passing yards per game, and they also rank tied for third with 22 sacks. Though they’ve struggled a bit against the run, the Eagles’ strong efforts against the pass have translated to being the No. 4 scoring defense (16.7 points per game allowed) in the league. On the other side of the ball, while some of the shine has worn off of rookie Carson Wentz, the Eagles offense continues to sustain drives and avoided costly turnovers. Against a mediocre Giants defense, Wentz and his teammates should find similar success in Week 9.
Pick: Philadelphia (+2.5)
Dallas Cowboys at Cleveland Browns (+7)
Though the Cowboys may be concerned that this week’s contest represents the troublesome “trap game,” Dallas should win comfortably here. While Dak Prescott had his struggles against the Eagles on Sunday night, the rookie quarterback also came up big when his team needed him most. Ezekiel Elliott and Dallas’ offensive line have a very opportunistic matchup against Cleveland’s 31st-ranked run defense, and the rookie running back should pad his league-leading yardage total (799). Although the Browns have continued to play competitive football despite remaining winless, they should struggle against a Cowboys team that has been dominant in 2016.
Pick: Dallas (-7)
New York Jets (+3.5) at Miami Dolphins
While Jay Ajayi’s back-to-back 200-yard efforts have been remarkable, the second-year running back will be hard-pressed to have a third-straight big day against the Jets. Through eight games, Todd Bowles’ run defense are the league leaders in rushing yards allowed per game (74.0) and yards per rush allowed (3.3). With that in mind, Miami will likely need to rely on quarterback Ryan Tannehill, and while the Jets’ porous pass defense provides him with an advantageous matchup, I don’t trust Tannehill to carry the Dolphins to victory. In eight career games against New York, Tannehill has thrown nine interceptions and accumulated a passer rating of 70.6 while going 3-5. Though placing my trust in Ryan Fitzpatrick is by no means comforting, I think he helps the Jets pull closer to .500 with a road victory over the Dolphins.
Pick: New York (+3.5)
Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens (-2.5)
Ben Roethlisberger’s return from injury initially had me leaning toward picking Pittsburgh, but after closer examination, I like Baltimore in this one. The Ravens are healthy and rested after their bye week. Barring any late-week issues, Baltimore should have five key starters (Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley, Marshal Yanda, Ronnie Stanley and Steve Smith Sr.) return to the lineup. The Ravens offense also should be better acclimated to a refreshed offensive approach after replacing Marc Trestman with new offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg prior to Week 6. On defense, Baltimore’s track record against Pittsburgh’s dynamic running back-wide receiver duo is very encouraging. In five games against Le’Veon Bell, Baltimore has allowed 100 rushing yards to Pittsburgh’s star running back just once. Likewise, despite terrorizing most of the NFL, wide receiver Antonio Brown has managed just one touchdown in 13 games against Baltimore. The player largely responsible for limiting Brown is Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith. In seven career games against the Steelers, Smith has held Brown to just one 100-yard game and no touchdowns. If recent history holds true, and Roethlisberger is a bit rusty following his one-game absence, the Ravens should place themselves back into the playoff conversation with a win.
Pick: Baltimore (-2.5)
New Orleans Saints (-4) at San Francisco 49ers
The Saints are always a tough team to pin down. Their upset victory over the Seahawks last week wasn’t entirely surprising. Drew Brees and the New Orleans offense can put up points against anybody, and the Saints defense took advantage of a banged-up Russell Wilson and a shaky Seattle offensive line. While I think New Orleans’ inconsistency could result in a disappointing loss to an inferior and underwhelming 49ers team, Brees has a receiving group that is as talented as any he’s had as a Saint, and a combination of Tim Hightower and Mark Ingram should fare well against San Francisco’s league-worst run defense. On the other side of the ball, New Orleans’ defense should benefit from the likely returns of cornerback Delvin Breaux and rookie defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins. While a better quarterback might still expose a weak Saints secondary, Colin Kaepernick has yet to resemble a capable starting quarterback through two 2016 starts.
Pick: New Orleans (-4)
Indianapolis Colts (+7.5) at Green Bay Packers
On paper, the Packers being a heavy home favorite makes sense. Despite losing to the Falcons in Week 8, Aaron Rodgers played his best game in 2016. Rodgers beat Atlanta with his arm (28 for 38 for 246 yards and four touchdowns) and his legs (six carries for 60 yards), and he faces a favorable matchup against a poor Colts defense. Meanwhile, the Packers defense should give Andrew Luck and Indianapolis’ offense trouble. Luck was sacked six times and was running for his life against Kansas City last week, and the Chiefs entered that matchup with the fewest number of sacks in the league. Green Bay enters Sunday ranked fifth in the NFL in sacks. Though everything would seem to suggest that Green Bay will win comfortably, this feels like a game where Andrew Luck rallies the Colts late, while Mike McCarthy and the Packers once again take their foot off of the gas pedal. I like Green Bay to win, but I think Luck and Indianapolis manage a backdoor cover.
Pick: Indianapolis (+7.5)
Tennessee Titans at San Diego Chargers (-5)
In a sneakily intriguing game, I like the Chargers in this one. San Diego’s eight-point loss against the Broncos in Week 8 was their largest margin of defeat this season. However, just like their fourth other agonizing losses, the Chargers had a great chance to beat their AFC West rivals. Though San Diego fans will likely bemoan what could have been come season’s end, quarterback Philip Rivers continues to play great football despite losing Keenan Allen and Danny Woodhead early in 2016 to season-ending injuries. On defense, rookie No. 3 overall pick Joey Bosa is quickly developing into a star that can impact a game on a weekly basis. Due to their place in the lowly AFC South, Tennessee has a legitimate opportunity to make the playoffs this season. Through eight games, the Titans have the No. 3 rushing offense in the league (152.3 yards per game) and their defense ranks 10th in the league in yards allowed per game (342.0). However, the strength of San Diego’s defense is up front as the Chargers are sixth in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game. Likewise, Rivers is plenty capable of putting up points against anybody.
Pick: San Diego (-5)
Denver Broncos (+1.5) at Oakland Raiders
Coming off of a victory over the Bucs that saw quarterback Derek Carr set a team record with 513 passing yards, the Raiders face a far stiffer test against the Broncos. Denver boasts the NFL’s best pass defense through eight games, and a lot of that stems from their ability to pressure opposing quarterbacks. The Broncos have pressured the quarterback on a league-high 41 percent of dropbacks, and 2015 Super Bowl MVP Von Miller is second in the NFL with 8.5 sacks this season. Carr will surely try to get the ball out quickly to his talented receivers in an attempt to negate Denver’s pass rush, but I’d imagine defensive coordinator Wade Phillips will have a plan to both pressure and confuse Oakland’s third-year quarterback. Though Denver’s offense remains cause for concern, the Raiders have far more question marks on defense. Between their startling lack of discipline (Oakland has a league-high 86 penalties, which is the most by any team through eight games since 1948) and a 31st ranking in yards allowed per game (410.4), Trevor Siemian and Denver’s offense should be able to put up enough points to score a crucial road victory.
Pick: Denver (+1.5)
Buffalo Bills at Seattle Seahawks (-7)
With each team entering Monday night coming off of consecutive disappointing efforts, I like the Bills to keep things close in this matchup due to a favorable matchup against Seattle’s offense. Thanks in large part to a series of injuries to Russell Wilson and a lackluster offensive line, the Seahawks are 29th in the NFL in points per game (18.7). As a result, following their struggles against Tom Brady in Week 8, the Bills defense has a great chance to bounce back against the Seahawks. With Marcell Dareus and Lorenzo Alexander looking likely to play, Buffalo’s front seven should pose problems for Seattle. On offense, the Bills appear likely to have LeSean McCoy available. McCoy was receiving deserved MVP buzz for his string of strong performances during Buffalo’s four-game wining streak, but a hamstring injury has slowed the star running back down over the last two weeks. However, with McCoy back, and with Percy Harvin injecting life into Buffalo’s struggling passing game, the Bills should move the ball against a Seattle defense that will likely be without two star players (Michael Bennett and Kam Chancellor). For the second time in 2016, the Bills will shock the NFL with a surprising victory over an NFC West team.
Pick: Buffalo (+7)